Pandu zonene – ‘Thank you very much’. I learnt these two Kavango words today on a morning trip aboard the Hakusembe River Queen.
My gratitude began at first light though when a soft mist hugged the slow-moving water. The sun rose red, warming the earth and the birds started to spread their wings. I could hear singing from the village across the way and amidst the bird calls, the distinctive and haunting call of the swamp boubou. I sipped on hot coffee (delivered to my deck at 6am) in bed, from under a soft red blanket and watched the Kavango wake up.
These river areas were places of bounty. I savoured a few mouthfuls of fresh fruit-salad with chunks of papaya and made myself a sandwich with thick Gondwana homemade cheese before boarding the River Queen. It was bird paradise on the water in the early morning. Herons and egrets flew up from the Phragmites reeds or posed picturesquely against the dead branches of trees. African jacanas walked amongst the river vegetation. “It’s called the Jesus bird,” Paulus (our skipper and guide) told me “because it walks on water.” Well, all things in Life are possible after all, I thought. The African jacana has extremely large feet to distribute its weight, enabling it to walk on lily pads.
As the day warmed, we met the village people along the river: some in their watos (dug-out canoes), girls checking their woven traps for small fish, women washing clothes and boys fishing in the shallows. Paulus called to them, greeted them (omitting the ‘Love you’ he had voiced to some young beauties the evening before) and asked permission to take photographs. On the way back, as we passed some mauve water-lilies he manoeuvred close to the bank and pulled one up from the muddy river soil. He expertly crafted it into a water-lily necklace and strung it around my neck. I became the river queen for the trip back, wearing the most beautiful and perfect necklace I have ever worn. Pandu zonene Paulus and the great Okavango River.
Then, for the first time on this trip, I took the afternoon off. Well, I took time to answer emails, sort photographs and catch-up a bit perched on the river deck while listening to the river flow beneath me, the muted sounds of the birds and cows, and the voices and splashes of the villagers on the far bank. (They definitely didn’t seem afraid of crocodiles.) The long reeds with their cream-coloured heads bobbed in the breeze, a fish came up for a gasp of air (at least I think it was a fish) and the day quietened and slowed, until I could barely keep my eyes open. It was quite something, this Hakusembe paradise.
And, there was still the late afternoon and sunset to look forward to and supper in the cosy dining-room bedecked with red roses. Pandu zonene.
Ron Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the information on the Wild Horses in the Namib Desert for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.